A UNM organization insists that the use of the term “illegal” in reference to people offends certain students on campus.
Ramiro Rodriguez, “our-storian” and finance chair for MEChA de UNM, said he is opposed to people using the term “illegal” when referring to undocumented immigrants.
“I am against people using the word ‘illegal’ to reference other people because it’s degrading,” he said. “I believe ‘illegal’ refers to an action, not to a person.”
Two weeks ago, Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Sen. Colt Balok used the term during a debate regarding Resolution 2S at an ASUNM Full Senate meeting. The resolution supported the “rights of all undergraduate students at the University of New Mexico to apply for and obtain a state-issued drivers’ license.”
Balok said he has gotten some negative responses after he insisted on using the word during the meeting.
“It has been a very interesting experience,” he said. “I have gotten criticism for my use of the word. I had a former instructor come up to me and tell me that it was not Catholic of me to use the word because I was putting people down.”
Despite the responses, Balok said he still believes he has the right to use the term and that it is a way to reflect his political views.
“I believe that people can say whatever they want,” he said. “I choose the use term ‘illegal’ because of my conservative views. ‘Undocumented’ and ‘illegal,’ when used in this context really mean the same thing. They simply have different connotations.”
However, Rodriguez said the word is not appropriate and disrespects undocumented students at the University.
“He’s saying that he has the right to disrespect a group of people,” he said. “That’s how I would see it… If, on campus, we’re supposed to feel safe, protected and at home, and there’s someone in ASUNM Senate that says it’s OK to refer to other students as ‘illegal,’ I think that is just really disrespectful.”
Balok said it is not his intention to put people down. He said using the terminology represents the views of some of the students at UNM.
“My role as an ASUNM senator is to represent the students, but what we have to keep in mind is that not all of the UNM students are liberal,” he said. “Many of the students that I represent have very conservative views and by staying true to my conservative values, I believe I am representing my constituents.”
Last semester, some of those constituents — in the form of the UNM Conservative Republicans — hosted a viewing event of the film “They Come to America: The Cost of Illegal Immigration.”
Rodriguez said this event was part of what caused the use of the term to start spreading to other parts of the University. He said his professor even used the term during one of his classes after the showing of the movie.
“The teacher was using undocumented workers as a term, but when it came to, not workers just referring to people, he would say ‘illegal immigrants,’” he said. “That’s an example of how UNM is being OK with it and not taking any type of precautions.”
The UNM Conservative Republicans will host a follow-up showing of the previous movie’s sequel on Feb. 25 in the Student Union Building. The film is titled “They Come to America: Part II, The Cost of Amnesty.”
Rodriguez said he felt disrespected because of the use of the term. He said the administration should take measures to combat the use of the term at UNM.
“I feel that the administration of UNM should begin by administrating themselves,” he said. “They should be looking at their own student organizations and bringing them up to date with terms. The administration itself lacks this knowledge.”
Despite some of the negative responses he has received, Balok said he has gotten some support from students as well and will continue voicing his opinion.
“This may come as a surprise, but I have actually gotten more support than criticism,” he said. “Students have since contacted me showing support and thanking me for my vote on Resolution 2S.
It is these students who encourage me to keep voicing the unpopular opinion.”